Progressive Patterns

Scientific reasons to get out into nature

This page highlights simple, natural solutions to help us increase our overall health and enjoyment of life. There is abundant evidence, ranging from anecdotal to large-scale research, that nature is good for us. Human nature is designed to live in nature and move at nature's pace. It gets updated regularly with new information.

1) Even a 10 minute walk helps

A New York Times article cites scientific research that short periods of gentle, low-exertion exercise develop new brain cells in animals. This was confirmed by examination of brain tissue. Many of these new cells are in and around the hippocampus, which is related to emotion regulation and memory retention. Humans were given similar exercises and then examined by MRI. A similar increase in activity centering around the hippocampus was observed. Also, the test subjects performed significantly better on memory tests after exercise compared to before.

2) Better kindergartners

Kindergartners who played in natural areas vs those who played on manufactured playground were more alert, better coordinated, more imaginative, and more likely to create their own games. (Last Child in the Woods, p. 88)

3) More mature children

Children who played in man-made structures established their social hierarchy based on physical competence. Those who played in green areas based their hierarchy on language, creativity, and inventiveness skills. (Last Child in the Woods, p. 88)

4) Nature’s restorative power

Participants in 1 to 2 week wilderness programs reported a greater sense of peace, and greater mental clarity, and attributed more to just being in nature than to the physically challenging activities.

Fascination (involuntary attention) gives directed attention (voluntary) a break. Office workers with views of bushes, trees, or other plants reported significantly less frustration and more enthusiasm in their work.

Proofreaders who went on a wilderness backpacking trip showed improved performance while those who took an urban vacation or none at all showed no improvement. (Last Child in the Woods, p. 101)

5) Nature’s Ritalin

Several studies showed that children who live near, or play in, green space have lower attention deficit symptoms. In contrast, indoor activities, or activities outdoors on pavement, increased ADHD symptoms. “The greener the setting, the more the relief.” Concentration improves. Impulsiveness decreases. Gratification can be delayed longer. This works for girls as well as for boys. (Last Child in the Woods, p. 105)

6) Ecophobia not helpful

Our ecological preservation programs (recycle, save the rain forest, save the animals) may actually be instilling a negative attitude about nature under abuse, which is just another stress children will try to avoid. They are rarely educated about the positive things in nature right next door to them. (Last Child in the Woods, p. 134)

7) The Arts increase SAT scores

“A 1995 analysis by the College Board showed that students who studied the arts for more than four years scored 44 points higher on the math portion and 59 points higher on the verbal section of the SAT.” (Last Child in the Woods, p. 137) [note: Art is not nature, but creativity is a common theme.]

8) Finland’s curriculum

In the global OECD comparisons, “Finland scored first in literacy and placed in the top five in math and science.” The USA was in the middle of the survey of developed countries. Finnish students do not enter any school until seven. There is a national curriculum and certification, but teachers are given freedom in their teaching. Between 45 minute classes, the students are given 15 minutes outside. (Last Child in the Woods, p. 204)

9) Better discipline and achievement

Schools with environmental programs have fewer discipline problems. They also reported increased science mastery, improved cooperation and conflict resolution skills, as well as gains in self-esteem, problem solving, and motivation. (Last Child in the Woods, p. 206)

10) Canadian studies

Compared to students in conventional schools, students in schools with diverse natural settings were “more physically active, more aware of nutrition, more civil to one another, and more creative.” Teachers also reported that when teaching outside they felt “excited again.” (Last Child in the Woods, p. 220)

11) Adventure therapy

Long term positive benefits in self-esteem, leadership, academics, personality, and relationships were more commonly achieved by wilderness programs such as Student Conservation Association, Outward Bound, and the National Outdoor Leadership School. (Last Child in the Woods, p. 230)

12) Camps for disabled

A 2001 analysis showed that people with disabilities participated in outdoor activities as much or more than non-disabled people. Findings from 15 summer camps with special programs for children with disabilities revealed improved initiative and self-direction transferred to home and school. (Last Child in the Woods, p. 230)

13) Better bomb spotters

An 18 month long study determined that the best bomb sniffers were rural hunters or city tough guys. Either environment was away from the computer screens and video games. Both required heightened senses integrated with intuition and knowing the surroundings. The worst bomb spotters were those who grew up with video games. They looked at the humvee windshield like a kind of computer screen instead of taking in all of their surroundings. "Even with perfect vision, they lacked the special ability, that combination of depth perception, peripheral vision, and instinct, if you will, to see what was out of place in the environment." (The Nature Principle, p. 16)

14) Distraction destroys creativity

Ever present advertising from billboards to posters above urinals to screens on gas pumps, walls, and airplane seat backs, has spawned a new field called interruption science. This has made a new label: continuous partial attention. While we might resist being told what to think, advertising (and other tech distractions) can keep us from thinking our own thoughts. Creativity is the connection of thoughts and sub-conscious contributions. Both are blocked by distraction. In fact, up to 28% of a typical worker's day can be interruptions and recovery time. (The Nature Principle, p. 22)

15) Feeling sharp vs being dormant

Louv writes about schools with some or all classes held outdoors. He then interviewed one director who designs such schools, Reyna Oleas, who was then living at one of her schools on the Galapogas Islands. He asked her if nature had made her smarter. "I'd prefer the word sharpness. I have more sharpness and perpetual awareness," she said. "Before I came here, my life was . . . dormant." (not asleep, but driven to distraction) "You're writing email, watching TV, answering the phone. You've got your head in so many channels. Your body could collapse and you wouldn't even realize it. I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. I was stressed out. I wasn't well. Here, I healed, I quit smoking… When there is something you have to deal with, you go do it. Solutions come more naturally. I can separate the real problem from the static. Before, it was—you have a problem, and everything is huge. And now, if something happens, okay, this is what it is, how are we going to deal with it?" (The Nature Principle, p. 24)

16) To plant a pine

Louv’s quoting of Leopold struck me: “To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree–and there will be one. If his back be strong and his shovel sharp, there may eventually be ten thousand. And in the seventh year he may lean upon his shovel, and look upon his trees, and find them good.” (The Nature Principle, p. 257)

17) Merely looking at nature helps

A Washington Post article tells of companies in Vancouver, BC, and others, such as Facebook, are installing green roofs to help the environment and their employees. Even though they work in a city setting, studies show that “green microbreaks” viewing nature images provide real benefits. Results based on Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) show significant improvement in concentration.

18) The play deficit

A psychologist and research professor at Boston College makes some interesting observations and connections. Starting in the 1960’s play time went down while school time went up. During the same time mental disorders and suicide went up. He then asks the question, Do students need more time to learn, or do students need more time to play? The Sudbury Valley School is discussed, which is a whole topic in and of itself worthy of investigation. He then finishes his article by analyzing the connections between standardized tests, creativity, play, and social skills.

19) Vegan hikers smell better?!

Many people worry about sweat and the resulting body odor that outdoor activities produce. This abstract of a study that compared two control groups finds “red meat consumption has a negative impact on perceived body odor.” Perhaps there is a side benefit to returning to the natural, vegetarian diet of Genesis!

20) Awe is awfully good for us!

Being in awe of our Creator and His creation is good for our health. In fact, it is the most effective emotion and frame of mind, at least according to one study. It found "that awe, measured in two different ways, was the strongest predictor of lower levels of proinflammatory cytokines. These effects held when controlling for relevant personality and health variables." 

According to Wikipedia: Proinflammatory cytokines are cytokines that are important in cell signaling and promote systemic inflammation... In contrast to anti-inflammatory cytokines, which promote healing and reduce inflammation, proinflammatory cytokines act to make a disease worse.

Gazing at the wonder of a rainbow or reveling in the fresh air after a storm or walking beneath a blue sky that stretches farther than the eye can see all compel us to experience something bigger than ourselves. In awe, we sense the power of our Creator. As we lose ourselves in the curiosity and reverence of the moment, God "sneaks" good health into us. Without trying we are subconsciously benefitted.

Awe not only makes us healthier people, but also better people. An experiment at Berkeley had a group look up at tall eucalyptus trees and another group look at a building. Then an accident was staged in which someone dropped pens. The tree-gazers helped pick up more pens.

Knowing that the Power that creates life and upholds galaxies is in the Bible is also awesome. "Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spoke and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast." "My heart stands in awe of your word. I rejoice at your word, as one that finds great spoil." (Psalms 33:8-9; 119:161-162)

No wonder reading Scripture in nature is so awesome!

21) Noise hurts birds

The scientists caught a flash of brilliant blue and burnt orange. A Western Bluebird set up a nest and prepared for babies. There was just one problem. She was within earshot of the hum of a natural gas compressor. At first it was not much of a problem, but after being stuck in the nest with the eggs and babies for weeks, the loss of sleep and constant hypervigilance took its toll. Just as in humans suffering from PTSD or chronic fatigue syndrome, blood tests showed hormonal and other chemical deterioration. The researchers reported smaller body growth and poor feathering.

The constant sounds and lights and commotion of our routines and environment can take a toll on us like on the bluebird. It is good to get away to the gentle peace of forest, field, or beach. Sometimes we don't realize just how stressed our senses are until we get away.

"Thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall you be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength." (Isaiah 30:15)

22) Nature Deficit Disorder?

Is ADHD/ADD a symptom of too little activity in nature? Can little Calvin, who is more hyper than a jumping bean, find relief and improved concentration by romping through the grass and woods? Increasing research is telling us that it definitely will not hurt.

One study in the American Journal of Public Health concluded, "Green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics." It also said that "current ADHD treatments fall far short of ideal, offering only limited relief from symptoms and often involving serious side effects." However, "exposure to natural views and settings" "has been linked to superior attention, effectiveness, and effectiveness-related outcomes."

Dr. Frances Kuo at the University of Illinois said that "doses of nature" provided "shockingly better" results in a study of 17 children with ADHD. A walk in the park helped the children perform significantly better on the Digit Scan Backwards test than a walk in the city.

Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods (p. 102) cites a study that concluded that every hour of daily TV watching by preschoolers increases by 10% the likelihood that they will develop concentration problems by age seven.

"Their minds have been taxed with lessons, when they should not have been called out, but kept back until the physical constitution was strong enough to endure mental effort. Small children should be left as free as lambs to run out-of-doors, to be free and happy, and should be allowed the most favorable opportunities to lay the foundation for sound constitutions." (Christian Education, p. 8)

23) Camps

I first discovered Adventism when in high school and it opened my eyes to higher possibilities than I had ever imagined. However, I had to pursue this line of research against my dad's command. In the woods and the state park below our house, with books wrapped in plastic bags under the "moose tree", I learned about truth and prayer and stress relief. God inspires people to preserve nature so that all of us can benefit physically and spiritually.

This is the reason why almost every conference has a camp with youth programs. They are worth the investment because stories of life changing experiences are real and they are multitudinous.

In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv devotes an entire chapter to the efficacy of camps. He tells of people who found belonging and experienced transcendent moments in the woods, by the lakes, and on the mountaintops. Youth wilderness programs report "an extraordinary 72%" of outdoor participants remember them as "one of the best of their life." People with physical or mental disabilities reported "improved initiative and self-direction that transferred to their lives" back home.

Take a kid camping! Sponsor a neighborhood child at Big Lake Youth Camp!

24) Church in the wildwood

"Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge." (Psalms 19:2) And Genesis unto Revelation shows a pattern of God's people living and growing in the peace of nature.

Adam and Eve were placed in a garden. The murderer Cain built the first city. Abraham was called from Ur, but Lot went into Sodom and we know how that turned out. Isaac, Jacob, the other patriarchs and early Israel lived in the countryside. When Samaria and Jerusalem grew big and proud, they were destroyed.

Moses unlearned his "civilized" training with 40 years in the wilderness. David was prepared for kingship over his brothers because of his years herding sheep on the frontier. Elijah learned the greatest lesson of his life from a still small voice that spoke to him in the cave in the mountains. John the Baptist "grew, and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts until the day of his showing unto Israel." (Luke 1:80)

Jesus "studied the word of God, and His hours of greatest happiness were found when He could turn aside from the scene of His labors to go into the fields, to meditate in the quiet valleys, to hold communion with God on the mountainside or amid the trees of the forest. The early morning often found Him in some secluded place, meditating, searching the Scriptures, or in prayer. With the voice of singing He welcomed the morning light. (MH 52)

Paul was in Arabia for 3 years. The persecuted church was a woman in the wilderness for 1260 years. The whore of Babylon is "that great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth." (Revelation 17:18) The final message is: "Come out of her, my people." (18:4) If one comes out of the city, they must necessarily go into the country, the wilderness. Thus we see that the church has always been and always will be the church of the wildwood.

"Come to the church by the wildwood!

Oh, come to the church in the vale!"

25) Nature heals veterans

We recently celebrated Memorial Day, which remembers our fallen soldiers. We will soon celebrate Independence Day, which is the birthday of our nation, purchased by self-sacrificing revolutionaries. In November we will celebrate Veterans Day in honor of all our veterans, both living and dead. About a third of our nation's holidays salute veterans. This is good, but what about the other 362 days in the year?

This column focuses on the physical and spiritual benefits of nature, and there are healing influences in nature that help our veterans recover from the trauma of war. This article tells how equine therapy helps vets reconnect. This article tells the story of one veteran who is walking from Mexico to Canada as part of his healing process. There are other stories of vets "walking off" their stress. In fact, Warrior Expeditions tells of veteran Earl Shaffer who was the first person to walk the entire Appalachian Trail.

Time in nature may not cure everything, but if you know of a veteran struggling to regain normalcy, you might want to suggest he or she get in contact with organizations that help, such as Veterans Expeditions. Maybe sometimes you feel like a veteran of family, work, or even church wars. Being with nature and with God may be just what you need.

26) Sitting is dangerous?!

According to an article on CBS News, the three leading causes of premature death are "tobacco use, poor diet and lack of physical activity." As Adventists, we don't smoke, and our mostly vegetarian diet is good, but how often do we exercise? According to their survey "of some 5,900 adults found that nearly 26 percent sit for more than eight hours a day, 45 percent don't get any moderate or vigorous exercise during the week, and about 11 percent sit more than eight hours a day and are physically inactive."

Of course, it is not that sitting is bad, but if we sit too much then we are exercising too little. This increases our risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and premature death. "If 25 percent of inactive people got at least the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, nearly 75,000 premature deaths could be prevented." The article goes on to list the benefits of physical activity. Read it here before the holiday season of feasting and sitting begins!

27) Children spend less time outside than prison inmates

It's a new year and I just came across a new article. The title says it all!

Maximum security prisoners are guaranteed 2 hours a day outside, but studies show that half of all kids worldwide spend less than an hour outside. The initial survey was conducted by United Kingdom laundry brands OMO and Persil, which, upon realizing how dire the situation is for children, launched a new campaign called “Dirt is Good – Free the Children.” They have a very well done video on the website that includes prisoner reactions that really make an impact. The article is short and to the point. Read it now and help your kids, or someone else's, get their year off to a good start!

28) Poor diet linked to poor mental health

A recent article described a link (not necessarily causal) between poor diet and poor mental health. It noted, "Increased sugar consumption has been found to be associated with bipolar disorder, for example, and consumption of foods that have been fried or contain high amounts of sugar and processed grains have been linked with depression." Other studies have linked these mental health symptoms with lack of exercising in nature. My guess is that diet, exercise, and mental health are all linked by a cycle of poor choices influenced by heredity, environment, and lack of knowledge.